The world’s greatest night dive is underrated. I discover this truth during the first five minutes on a site I’ve waited 20 years to dive.

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“Don’t look off into the distance; you’ll just scare yourself,” says Matthew D’Avella, divemaster for Jack’s Diving Locker’s Pelagic Magic dive.

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After five pleasantly exhausting days in Hawai’i, my wife and two young daughters join me for a week of vacation. And for one week, we barnstorm...

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On most vacations, you stay in a resort and dive with that resort’s in-house operator. Not so in Hawai’i, and especially the town of Kailua-Kona, where...

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It’s Dark Down There

“Don’t look off into the distance; you’ll just scare yourself,” says Matthew D’Avella, divemaster for Jack’s Diving Locker’s Pelagic Magic dive. Along with the mantas and lava tubes, this one-tank trip 3 miles offshore, drifting 30 feet below the surface in water that is more than a mile deep — in the dead of night — has become one of Kona’s signature dives.

“We come across animals that defy comprehension,” says D’Avella in his 30-minute briefing, rolling off a slideshow of amazing animals on his iPad. “Once you get in, take a good look at all that’s around you. Everything’s alive.”

The ride out isn’t as long as I expect, but it still gives me time to question what the heck I’m doing. I’ve been diving for 25 years, and while new experiences don’t come along too often, this one is spooky.

I’m the first one to jump in and turn on my light, only to realize that my single, lonesome beam isn’t doing much good in this dark abyss. (Fun fact from D’Avella: If you drop your light and it sinks at 200 feet per minute, it takes about half an hour to get to the bottom.) I wasn’t prepared for how dark it is down here, and I temporarily forget D’Avella’s advice: Focus only on what’s close.

It takes a minute for me to settle in, and once the other six divers are in, I grow bolder, straining against the weighted line that tethers me to the boat, wanting to explore more of the inky void. I shouldn’t worry, as everything is attracted to my light and comes to me.

Each minute is something new: an animal that looks like a glowing dandelion, a dreamcatcher, a tiny flatfish.

D’Avella later identifies as a pelagic nudibranch. I see fish so oddly shaped that no imagination could dream them up, translucent shrimp and a juvenile crab the size of a pencil eraser that attaches to my finger. So many microscopic animals, they look like tiny spaceships floating in a galaxy of stars.

After the dive, everyone’s trying to describe what he just saw to everyone else. It’s the most excited I’ve been after a dive since, well, the night before with the mantas. Each animal was new and different to the three “Pelagic Magic virgins”: fluorescent squid, Venus girdles, tiny crabs. Jack’s Diving Locker owner Jeff Leicher, who never misses a Pelagic Magic dive — or any day dive for that matter; he’s got close to 20,000 — even gets in on the fun. Never at a loss for words, the Stanford grad is tongue-tied trying to describe the new animal he saw, before he sits down and gives up. “All I’ll say is it was a good night.”

It’s fitting that a trip featuring tropical snow, Hawaiian cowboys and a critter whisperer ends with Pelagic Magic, a challenger to the mantas’ title of World’s Greatest Night Dive. Was it, though? I’ll take the easy way out, and just call it a tie.